‘We are not getting disruptive ideas’

Innovation Cells should drive enterprise and innovation at institutions, believes Abhay Jere

Innovate or perish — the corporate world now swears by this imperative. It is, however, no longer restricted to the corporates. Educational institutions, primarily those providing higher education, are under pressure to foster a culture of innovation.

By creating the Innovation Cell and the Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India, is sending out a message to these institutions that they have to go beyond the obvious.

In an email interview, Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer, Ministry of HRD, Government of India, explains the dynamics of this new initiative. Prior to taking up this role, Jere was head of Persistent Labs and had a big hand in shaping and running Smart India Hackathons.

What has been your understanding of the role of innovation or entrepreneurship clubs in colleges?

Although some colleges are trying to promote innovation, their numbers are small. I would say less than 5%. Innovation is still not the primary focus of a majority of the institutions. For educational institutions to reorient their focus, a comprehensive and systematic intervention and hand-holding is required from the highest level. A robust local innovation ecosystem also needs to be cultivated.

Currently, MHRD’s Innovation Cell (MIC) team is working on developing a comprehensive approach to hand-holding institutions to systematically promote innovation and entrepreneurship within their campuses. We have designed many initiatives, courses and also planning some policy interventions to address every component of the innovation ecosystem. It ranges from awareness and sensitisation, ideas generation, proof of concept development, pre-incubation to finally pushing the deserving products into already constructed incubators.

All India Council for Technical Education recently asked all its affiliate colleges to start innovation clubs. What has been the response?

To start with, we have decided to establish Institution Innovation Councils (IICs) across 1,000 institutions in India and handhold them using “hub and spoke” model. The initial response to our programme has been extremely good. The registration process is open and we are planning to launch these 1,000 IICs in the second week of November.

Any lessons from the corporate world that you want to bring to MIC?

My experience at Persistent Systems is helping me enormously. Industry always focuses on ‘outcome’ rather than ‘output’. At MIC, our primary focus is on ‘outcome’, hence we are very proactive and work in a time-bound fashion.

Is funding a major issue students face to scale up ideas?

Funding is not a problem for a real good idea. My major problem is that we are not getting or generating really disruptive or out-of-the-box ideas. We want ideas that will have global impact.

How can MIC help fund projects?

As MHRD works closely with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology and all other major government agencies mandated to fund innovative projects, MIC will guide innovators and act as a bridge between these funding agencies and innovators.

Can the Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA), an initiative to rank educational institutions on innovation output, help identify more budding entrepreneurs?

Currently, a majority of the educational institutions do not primarily focus on innovation. ARIIA ranking will help us in reorienting their focus towards innovation as these institutions will get judged on innovation-related parameters. One of the key parameter is ‘number and quality of startups incubated’ by the institutions. This will push institutions to support good ideas from students and faculties and help convert their ideas into ventures.

Hackathons are a great way to encourage digital innovations. Were there any new additions based on feedback from the previous editions for the Smart India Hackathon 2019?

Yes. Till last year, we were engaging only with Government ministries and departments for getting ‘Problem Statements’ that we used for challenging students. For the first time, for SIH2019, we are approaching a large number of industries for problem statements. We have received a phenomenal response from major industries. Problems from industries will be far more cutting-edge and challenging and will excite best student brains. This year, we are trying to increase the value of prizes, and we will also have ‘5 days Hardware Development Hackathon’.

What are the other ways schools and colleges can drive innovation?

The most simple and cost-effective way for schools and colleges to drive innovation is to conduct ‘Idea competitions’. Institutions should ask students and faculty to suggest ‘wild ideas’ (without violating the fundamental laws of science). Some of the good ideas can be felicitated and a selected few could be highlighted on their internal or external web portal. Also, schools and colleges can ask students and faculty to give ideas for improving their institution’s governance, and plug inefficiencies and revenue leakages.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:15:28 AM |

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